MacDoald of Nova Scotia

JUSTIN DALY November 1 1933

MacDoald of Nova Scotia

JUSTIN DALY November 1 1933

MacDoald of Nova Scotia


NOVA SCOTIA has declared in favor of a “New Deal” in politics. At the time when President Roosevelt was recruiting the best minds of the universities of the United States, the seagirt province of Canada placed the destiny of its own immediate economic future in the hands of Angus L. MacDonald, forty-threeyear-old Premier, the greater part of whose career to date has been spent within the cloistered halls of Nova Scotia’s colleges and universities. For the new Premier of Nova Scotia—who incidentally is the youngest provincial Premier - has in turn been schoolteacher, soldier, college professor and lawyer.

MacDonald’s choice as leader of the Liberal party in Nova Scotia came three years ago. One afternoon in October, 1930, the Nova Scotia Liberals met in convention to nominate a provincial leader and to start a reorganization of their badly decimated forces. For five years previous to that convention Nova Scotia Liberalism had been suffering nothing but severe reverses, after forty-three years of power and triumph. Two veteran Liberals, William Duff, the “Admiral of Parliament Hill,” and John J. Kinley, another veteran Lunenburg Liberal, were casting longing eyes on the Liberal leadership. They both went to the convention in Halifax confident of victory. But a surprise awaited them, as it did the assembled delegates. After both these gentlemen had been placed in nomination, a delegate from Colchester County arose and gave to the convention the name of Angus L. MacDonald, who but a few' weeks before had gone down to defeat in Inverness as Liberal candidate in the Federal election.

No one was more surprised at the nomination than MacDonald himself. He didn’t seek the post, he never campaigned for the leadership; but the delegates flocked to this youthful Moses, who was eventually to lead the Liberal party of Nova Scotia back to the promised land of power. Indeed, even after his name had been acclaimed MacDonald demurred about acceptance. He had just started to practise law in Halifax and his financial resources were then, as now, not too strong. He had a family to support, and a budding lawyer in Halifax has no easy road to financial or legal success. The task of restoring the shattered Liberal forces in Nova Scotia loomed as most formidable, and to attempt this job without financial means, at a time when the Conservative party was enjoying its greatest period of popularity in a nominally Liberal province, did not look any too promising for even an ambitious lawyer. But the Liberal Convention would have no other leader and they actually forced him to accept the position.

MacDonald performed a somewhat unusual task in leading the Liberal party in Nova Scotia during the following three years. He didn’t have a seat in the Legislature and the Government of that day wasn’t at all concerned about his getting into the House. MacDonald was, therefore, forced to direct his party’s campaign from long range when the House was in session. There was a time when he used to sit in the Speaker’s gallery. The gallery consisted of just a few comfortable chairs, placed on the floor of the House to the

right and left of Mr. Speaker and within a few yards from the desks of the Members. MacDonald could be found there every day when the House was sitting, notebook in hand, following the debates and keeping the pageboys busy carrying notes to his followers on the floor. That scheme didn’t please the Government Members any too well, but MacDonald, who used to coach football teams in much the same manner -sending orders to his charges on the field from the sidelines made quite a success of this strange bit of political manoeuvring. When he wasn’t sitting in the Speaker’s gallery he used to go into the press gallery and there watch the proceedings.

Every day MacDonald, w’hen the House was sitting, used to have a caucus with his followers. He mapped out most of the campaign to be carried on in the Chamber, even prepared some of the speeches that were delivered by the “back benchers.” and did not a little newspaper writing on the side, seeing that the Nova Scotia Liberal weeklies were kept advised of the activities of his party in the House.

But while the Conservative Government could keep MacDonald out of the House as a sitting Member, they could not keep him off the hustings, and he was even more effective there perhaps than he might have been in the Legislature.

Youthful Promise

PREMIER MACDONALD is admirably fitted by training and tradition for public life. Behind him is a life of scholarly achievement that has extended beyond his native province. Harvard University has honored him with the degree of Doctor of Science of Jurisprudence, and only a few years ago, when he was then Assistant Dean of Dalhousie Law' School, he was selected to deliver an imjx)rtant series of lectures at Osgoode Hall in Toronto. The various legal publications in Canada know him well as a contributor, and his standing at the Nova Scotia bar is high.

Broad Cove, a small hamlet in Inverness County, Nova Scotia, was Premier MacDonald's birthplace. Inverness, the most Highland of all Nova Scotia counties, has been for years sending its sons to the professions of law and medicine and to the church, and now MacDonald enters the honor roll of distinguished Inverness men who have wfon political prominence.

The new Premier is typical of the Highland Scotch of Nova Scotia in appearance, and a rich Scottish brogue may easily be detected. He has all the characteristics of the Cape Bretoner—vigor, courage, sincerity and splendid personal charm. His father’s people came to Cape Breton from Inverness-shire in Scotland more than 100 years ago, and Nova Scotia’s new Premier exudes all the fine qualities of his Scottish ancestry. His mother’s people were French and Irish. MacDonald’s grandfather was for many years Speaker of the Prince Edward Island Legislature, and later

represented at Ottawa a Federal constituency in Princ^ Edward Island, passing away while attending the session of the House of Commons in 1897.

It is not surprising, therefore, that MacDonald has a flair for public life. He comes by his political ambition naturally. When a student at St. Francis Xavier College in Antigonish he had his first baptism of political tire, and even then gave promise of a brilliant future in public life. His college career was one of exceptional merit, he was gold medallist of his class as well as valedictorian. Member of the university debating team, and in his senior year its leader, MacDonald found time from his studies to edit the college magazine and to figure prominently on the St. Francis Xavier rugby fifteen. For a year following his graduation he was on the teaching staff of St. Francis Xavier Academy.

In 1916 he enlisted for service overseas with the Nova Scotia Highlanders and was given the rank of lieutenant. He helped recruit “A” Company of the 85th Battalion Cape Breton Highlanders and later was promoted to the rank of captain, going overseas with the 185th Battalion. It was with the 25th Nova Scotia Battalion that he saw action in France; and he served with that unit until a few days before the Armistice, when he was severely wounded.

With the war over, MacDonald resumed his studies and entered Dalhousie Dew School, securing his LL.B. degree in 1921. At Dalhousie he again distinguished himself as a student, also played rugby on the college team until his shoulder, wounded in the war. fore'ed him to retire from active participation in athletics. Years later he became rugby coach at Dalhousie and turned out several championship clubs.

A Progressive Premier

HIS his FIRST graduation EXPERIENCE from Dalhousie. in public service MacDonald came after was appointed Assistant Deputy Attorney-General in Nova Scotia, in 1921, and at the same time he was engaged as a lecturer at Dalhousie I-aw School. In 1924 he became a fulltime professor in lawr at Dalhousie, and later assistant dean. It was while in this post that the Liberal party conscripted MacDonald as an active campaigner and candidate. Inverness Liberals demanded that he return to his native county in 1930 and become a candidate for the Mackenzie King

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administration. He resigned from Dalhousie and went into the fight. The Liberal fortunes were at their lowest in Nova Scotia in 1930, and MacDonald went down by a small majority before the onrush of the Bennett campaign. But the die was cast so far as his future was concerned. Henceforth MacDonald was to become a Liberal leader in Nova Scotia politics; and he returned to Halifax, set up his own law office, and started to practise what he had been preaching for several years to budding lawyers at Dalhousie Law School.

Immediately after his selection as leader. MacDonald proceeded to organize Nova Scotia Liberals in every town, village and hamlet of the province. He travelled day and night, carrying the message of his party, and he emulated to a remarkable degree the successful campaign of Joseph Howe, that great “Tribune of the People.” Howe has always been MacDonald's great political hero, and in the last election campaign MacDonald gave a Howe touch to the fight by means of his court action to assure an honest franchise. That spectacular court proceeding one night in Halifax, when the hour was near midnight, gave to MacDonald and his party an impetus that carried them to success a few weeks ago. The Conservative "strategy board” had attempted, it is alleged, to “fix the lists” in Halifax, but MacDonald and his associates were too keen to permit tactics, which might have succeeded thirty years ago, to be successful now. They forced the Government party, by court order, to revise the election lists and to replace the names of thousands of voters who had been disfranchised in the preliminary voters’ lists. A government that at the outset of a campaign had assumed the offensive was thus put on the defense, and the Liberals went rushing on to victory.

MacDonald’s success at the polls may be attributed to several factors, not the least important of which were his personal efforts in the reorganization of the Liberal party. In the campaign itself he stressed economy as a keynote, pledging his party to do away with waste, extravagance and duplication of services in all Government departments. In short, he promised to balance Nova Scotia’s budget—an achievement which no

government in the last nine or ten years has been able to report. Then again, he made much of the “responsible government” issue in the campaign; and his opponents gave him a very effective weapon with which to wage this part of his fight, when the electionlists fiasco developed in Halifax and New Glasgow, two of the largest centres in the province.

He made much of his pledge to investigate the basic cause of Nova Scotia's failure to keep pace with the rest of Canada in economic progress, and one major plank of his platform had to do with the appointment of an economic commission to carry on a thorough fact-finding enquiry in the hope of ascertaining, once and for all, the means and methods which must be adopted to further Nova Scotia's position in agriculture, fishing, lumbering and mining.

MacDonald’s manifesto promised, among other things, a programme to hard-surface the main trunk highways of Nova Scotia and a reduction of motor vehicle license fees. He pledged his party to an immediate payment of old age pensions—an issue in Nova Scotia for more than ten years. And he promised, too, another investigation into the steel and coal industries of the province, in an effort to secure additional markets for coal and steel products. Another important and vital plank in MacDonald’s policy was a programme designed to relieve the unemployment situation in Nova Scotia by means of necessary public works. There were other minor issues, of course, but these in brief constitute the policy that MacDonald submitted to the people.

Premier MacDonald is now in his fortythird year. When Hon. C. A. Dunning became Premier of Saskatchewan he was thirty-seven, and Hon. John Bracken was thirty-nine upon assuming the premiership of Manitoba. They are the only two men in the public life of Canada today who assumed the post of Provincial Premier at an age younger than MacDonald. As Liberal leader, he follows naturally in the footsteps of those two great Liberals of another day —Fielding and Murray, who, at the early ages of thirty-four and thirty-five respectively, assumed the premiership of Nova Scotia.